Should you buy a Wi-Fi 6E router in 2021?

Linksys Hydra Pro 6e Side
Linksys Hydra Pro 6e Side (Image credit: Samuel Contreras / Android Central)

Best answer: You should only buy a Wi-Fi 6E router if you already have devices that can use Wi-FI 6E. While Wi-Fi 6E offers a great upgrade to Wi-Fi 6 performance, the increase in speed isn't significant enough to justify the high price for most people.

What is Wi-Fi 6E, and how is it different from Wi-Fi 6?

For years, Wi-Fi has used channels at 2.4 GHz and 5.2 GHz, with 5.8 GHz adding a bit more capacity a while later. If you don't have a lot of close neighbors, these channels probably offer more than enough speed even when your connection is pushed beyond gigabit speed. For those of us that live in a dense area, we're starting to hit the limits.

If you check out all of the connections in your area, you start to understand the congestion your router needs to navigate. A Wi-Fi analyzer app can help you see overlapping Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi 6 has been able to do more with this space thanks to tech like a more advanced QAM setup, but it still has to share the same chunks of spectrum. Wi-Fi 6 is also able to use DFS, which opens up some more spectrum for 160MHz usage. DFS is shared spectrum and will disconnect immediately if there is higher priority traffic, such as traffic from an Airport.

Wi Fi 6E Channels TP-Link

Source: TP-Link (Image credit: Source: TP-Link)

Wi-Fi 6E could be easily thought of as Wi-Fi 6 with 6 GHz support. Replacing one of the 5 GHz channels with one at 6 GHz allows for much greater open bandwidth. Wi-Fi 6E also allows for 160 MHz wide channels. While some high-end Wi-Fi 6 routers support 160 MHz, the available bandwidth and congestion mostly limited the effectiveness.

Put simply: Wi-Fi 6E is very similar to Wi-Fi 6, with the added bandwidth available at 6 GHz. This frequency allows for up to seven different 160 MHz bands so your router can find clear space even in densely crowded areas. So while the raw speed of the routers won't be much different compared to Wi-Fi 6, you should be able to achieve those speeds with greater ease, even in congested areas.

Think about your home layout first

Asus ZenWiFi ET8 Wi-Fi 6E mesh router review

Source: Samuel Contreras / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Samuel Contreras / Android Central)

If you're looking to improve your home's Wi-Fi, you should identify whether or not you have a coverage issue or a speed issue. These two things are linked to an extent since a faster router with greater overhead can more easily overcome signal degradation in raw internet speed. Wi-Fi 6 at 2.4 GHz can deliver around 600 Mbps to most clients, while 5 GHz is double at 1,200 Mbps. For many people with fast connections, the best of 2.4GHz is slower than their connection. Even the best routers won't be able to improve a slow connection from your ISP.

If your main connectivity issue comes down to poor signal, you may want to consider a mesh Wi-Fi 6 system over a faster single router. On the other hand, if you want the best of both worlds, something like the Asus ZenWiFi ET8 is a solid choice.

On the other hand, if your router provides adequate signal quality in your home but still isn't fast enough, one of the best Wi-Fi 6E routers could very well be the answer. Still, if congestion is low, a Wi-Fi 6 router will come with most of the same benefits with greater current device compatibility.

The first wave of Wi-Fi 6E routers is expensive

One of the biggest reasons to hold off on Wi-Fi 6E is the price. This first wave of routers is quite expensive, even as more mid-range and entry-level routers come out. The price is beginning to come down as more options become available, though, for the most part, Wi-FI 6E routers are among the most expensive you can buy.

TheLinksys Hydra Pro 6E is one of the cheapest options at just under $400 but doesn't offer a ton of speed advantage when compared head to head against a similarly spec'd Wi-Fi 6 router. Still, if you need fast connectivity all over your home, the only faster alternative is running ethernet.

Not too many devices support 6 GHz

Netgear Nighthawk RAXE500 Review

Source: Samuel Contreras / Android Central The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is the first Wi-Fi 6E phone (Image credit: Source: Samuel Contreras / Android Central)

Compatibility will be low for quite a while though you can upgrade many laptops and desktops to support Wi-Fi 6E with an add-in card. Critically, many laptops no longer support this upgrade path, and you'll need a desktop with an open PCI-Express slot for the upgrade, ruling out many HTPCs that would see most of the benefit for ultra-fast Wi-Fi. Currently, only Windows 11 supports Wi-Fi 6E, so many people will be left out with the upgrade/

As far as phones go, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra supports Wi-Fi 6E, while the two cheaper Galaxy S21 phones do not. It's hard to imagine an Android app that could utilize this type of speed, but it's nice to know the phone is living up to its Ultra name. Some other phones, such as the Asus Zenfone 8, also come with Wi-Fi 6E support. One nice thing about these phones is that they support 160MHz connections even at 5GHz, so that they can provide a speed boost even on some Wi-Fi 6 routers.

Is it worth it to be ready for the future with Wi-Fi 6E?

No one likes setting up a new router and spending a bunch of time reconnecting all of their wireless devices, especially if most of those devices don't even support 6 GHz. So it makes sense to get something that will last as long as possible, and right now, that's Wi-Fi 6E. For some people, that will be worth it, but for most of us, getting a fast Wi-Fi 6 router will last multiple years before it becomes a problem. And that's only if internet usage continues to grow at the current rates.

If you decide to go for Wi-Fi 6E in 2021, you will be ready for up to 2.5 Gbps internet speeds with the first wave of 6E routers. These speeds are plausible with increased adoption of fiber and DOCSIS 3.1 supporting this speed. For most people, even gigabit connections are overkill, but it's still great that Wi-Fi is removing yet another bottleneck between you and the internet.

Is Wi-Fi 6E available in your country?

Wi Fi Alliance Wi Fi 6E Adoption Countries

Source: Wi-Fi Alliance (Image credit: Source: Wi-Fi Alliance)

What makes the 6GHz spectrum so special is that it's available in large contiguous chunks. This is thanks to the FCC freeing up old, over-the-air TV spectrum that saw very low usage. While many countries have similar spectrum allocations, not everyone has agreed on exactly which chunks to free up.

If Wi-Fi 6E routers aren't being sold specifically for your market, be careful about ordering one from another country, as the software may not be ready for your market.

When Samuel is not writing about networking or 5G at Android Central, he spends most of his time researching computer components and obsessing over what CPU goes into the ultimate Windows 98 computer. It's the Pentium 3.